Global collaborations can help answer fundamental questions that are resistant even to national endeavours. Drs Mark McCormack and Christopher Whelan (MCT) and Professors Kieran Murphy (Psychiatry) and John Waddington (Emeritus, MCT) have participated in an important international study, the results of which have just been published in Science [2018 Jun 22;360(6395)] under the auspices of the Brainstorm Consortium. This landmark study, ‘Analysis of shared heritability in common disorders of the brain‘, analyses genetic data assembled globally from 265,218 patients having one of 25 neuropsychiatric disorders and 784,643 control participants, together with 1,191,588 individuals having 17 other, potentially relevant characteristics. Psychiatric disorders share an unexpected degree of common genetic risk: for example, genes associated with risk for schizophrenia are also associated, to varying extents, with significant risk for bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia nervosa; in contrast, neurological disorders such as epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, migraine and multiple sclerosis appear more genetically distinct from one another. This highlights the importance of common genetic variation as a risk factor across psychiatric disorders.
I wanted to congratulate everyone for their significant contributions to recent RCSI Research Day. MCT’s presence was strong on the day with a number of keys oral and poster presentations from across the four MCT research pillars.
In particular, a huge congratulations to:
Dr Joan Ni Gabhann for the Most Highly Cited RCSI Senior Authored Paper with Industry Collaboration 2012-2016 for her paper ‘Btk regulates macrophage polarization in response to lipopolysaccharide’.
Rebecca Watkin (PI Prof Steven Kerrigan) and Edmund Gilbert (PI Prof Gianpiero Cavalleri) who jointly won the best postgraduate oral presentation, sponsored by Bio-Sciences Limited, for their presentations on ‘S.aureus induced miR330-3p expression triggers abnormal permeability in an ex-vivo 2D model of sepsis’ and ‘The Irish DNA Atlas: Revealing Fine-Scale Population Structure and History within Ireland’, respectively.
Prof James O’Donnell (ICVB) who won the Clinician CEO Innovation Award.
Dr Ingmar Schoen for his novel Invention Disclosure.
Camille Hurley (PI Dr Darran O’Connor), Edmund Gilbert (PI Prof Gianpiero Cavalleri) and Conor Duffy (PI Claire McCoy)for winning inaugural RCSI International Secondment Awards.
Finally, well done to Dr Claire McCoy for giving an inspiring and heartfelt presentation about her SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leader Award.
On November 14th, we welcomed almost 50 secondary school students at our Department for Lab Safari. The event was designed to encourage young people to consider a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine through hands-on experience and demonstrations prepared by our researchers. We developed 6 different workstations focused on Cancer biology and biomarkers, Drug Discovery, Multiple Sclerosis, Human Genetics and Immunology/Body clock
The event was opened by Prof. Tracy Robson, Head of MCT, sharing her career path in research and lessons that she learnt. Dr Avril Hutch, Head of RSCI Equality and Diversity Unit, also spoke about stereotypes in STEMM careers and having an awareness of unconscious bias.
Our workstation was led by Caragh Stapleton, Katherine Benson and Edmund Gilbert, centered around human genetics. Our activity set out to teach participants about inherited traits and demonstrate how variation in our DNA influences our physical attributes. We investigated a number of traits including PTC taster (using PTC taste strips), colour blindness, widows peak, tongue rolling, attached earlobes, bent little finger, eye colour and red hair. Each participant noted whether or not they had the given trait and we then discussed the hypotheses of the genetic variants influencing the different traits.
Our workstation was led by Olga Piskareva and John Nolan. We explained the concept of biomarkers and the importance of discovering novel biomarkers for neuroblastoma, a childhood malignancy. Various chromosomal aberrations can be biomarkers of neuroblastoma aggressiveness. One of the strongest predictors of rapid neuroblastoma progression is MYCN status. We selected several neuroblastoma cell lines with known MYCN status providing a good illustration of biomarker’s quantity. Using immunodetection, we visualised the differences in the MYCN presence.
Our workstation was led by Annie Curtis, Mariana Patricia Cervantes Silva, George Timmons and Cathy Wyse. The theme of our activity was on the body clock and immune function. We discussed with the students why they get jet lag and what that has to do with their body clock. Students then moved to the first station where they got a chance to add colouring to macrophages, so we had red, yellow, blue and green macrophages and were able to look at their coloured macrophages under a microscope. Then they moved to the next station where they got to see the master clock which resides in the hypothalamus of the brain under a microscope. Finally, we displayed some images of activated macrophages and explained their function.
Cancer Cell Biology
Our workstation lead by Sudipto Das, Gillian Moore and Stephanie Annett, focused on showcasing the various laboratory-based approaches applied regularly to identify and investigate novel gene or protein-based biomarkers of cancer progression. Within our workstation, we highlighted three key areas including how samples following biopsy from a cancer patient are used to construct tissue microarrays which are used for assessing the importance of a certain protein in cancer. This was followed by demonstrating a particular tissue culture-based method used to study anti-cancer properties of drugs and finally displaying an array of microscopic images of blood vessels developing in a given tumour.
Our workstation was led by Claire McCoy, Remsha Afzal and Conor Duffy. The research focus at our lab safari station was Multiple Sclerosis (MS). We explained how the causes of MS are unknown, but that it is characterised by an influx of immune cells into the brain and spinal cord. Our research aims to investigate one type of immune cell called the macrophage. We aim to understand the damage macrophages cause in MS and if we can reverse this to provide an alternative tool for MS therapeutics. We really enjoyed explaining our research at the Lab Safari, where we showed students how MS impacts on brain function and showed them examples of activated macrophages under the microscope.
Our workstation was led by Dermot Cox and Padraig Norton. Students were given a brief history of drug discovery. Then they were introduced to the basic concepts of how a drug binds to its target and the different ways in which a drug can bind. Students were then shown a demonstration of molecular docking on a computer whereby a small molecule, or drug candidate, was virtually docked into a target binding site using the software.
The event was led by Dr Maria Morgan, Anne Grady, Prof. Tracy Robson, Dr Olga Piskareva and John O’Brien. Guides on the evening included Olwen Foley, Camille Hurley, Mary Ledwith, Seamus McDonald and Shane O’Grady.
The Monday 12th December MCT Seminar Series will feature presentations from Amy Cole and Edmund Gilbert, of the Human Genetic Variation Research Group at RCSI. Led by Prof. Gianpiero Cavalleri, this research group studies large genetic datasets to investigate population structure, natural selection and the genetic basis of human disease.
Amy Cole’s research focuses on identifying adaptive genetic variants in high altitude populations. There are more than 140 million people living at high altitude who are exposed to two primary environmental extremes; hypobaric hypoxia and cold. At altitudes >2500 m individuals have between 11-14% effective oxygen availability, instead of the 21% available at sea level. Previous studies have identified genetic signals of selection across the genome, which have facilitated an adaptive phenotype for survival in this hypoxic environment. Studying these indigenous high altitude populations will enable us to shed light on genes and molecular mechanisms involved in the response to hypoxia. This insight can help shed light on a number of illnesses associated with hypoxic states in low altitude populations, such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and cancer.
Today Amy presented research on a whole genome sequencing project on native high altitude Quechua individuals, recruited from the city of Cerro de Pasco, Peru, during a field trip in 2015. Amy recently completed a three-month lab placement at MD Anderson Cancer Center with Professor Chad Huff’s research group. Here Amy performed a number of computational analyses to identify regions of the genome that are under selection in this cohort.
Edmund Gilbert’s research involves investigating the genetic structure and diversity found within the Irish. As an island population on the west of Europe, the Irish population is, from the genetic perspective, relatively homogenous compared to populations of the European mainland. As a results of this elevated homogeneity, the Irish population is well suited to studies of genetic disease. Such studies have recently shifted focus towards rare variants, which are more geographically stratified than more common variants. Therefore understanding the population structure within Ireland is key for the optimal design of genetic disease causing rare variant identification within the Irish.
Today Edmund will be presenting research investigating the extent of fine-scale population structure found within Ireland. He has been using SNP-array genotype data from the genetic ancestry DNA cohort called the “Irish DNA Atlas”. The Atlas is a cohort of individuals with Irish ancestry from three generations ago who have all eight of their great-grandparents born within 50 km. Edmund will be presenting analysis based on the suite of software known as fineStructure; investigating both fine-scale structure as well as the genetic ancestry of this structure.